The death of an eight-year-old San Bernardino boy after being tortured, burned and killed fills us with anger hard to express on an editorial page.
It isn’t as if this child is the first to be murdered at home by parents or foster parents, and that’s the problem.
Unless there is strong and visible outrage by the public, absolutely nothing will change in how the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) chooses to enforce child protection laws.
Children’s Court and DCFS, and unfortunately public safety officers, continue to adhere to the misguided notion that families need to be kept together at all costs.
Courts routinely return custody to parents even when they have been accused of neglecting, starving and beating their children. A few anger management classes, referrals to social service programs and all is forgiven, and too often forgotten.
We understand that not every parent that comes in contact with DCFS is purposely doing wrong or evil. We know that being poor or homeless is not a crime, and in some cases all a parent needs is a helping hand and support to get back on track.
We know that drug and alcohol addictions are a disease, and there are programs to help people get and stay clean.
But we also know that sometimes the fixes don’t stick, and it’s the children who pay the real cost of those failures.
Some social workers, not all, seem to lack the backbone it takes to protect children from abusive behaviors because they are afraid of being accused of overreacting or abusing their authority. They are more afraid of parents and their attorneys than they are motivated to ensure the safety of the children they are sworn to protect. They say they have too many cases to keep track up; we sympathize, but don’t believe that’s a valid excuse for the repeated failures to act when multiple sources report that something is dangerously wrong.
The fact that local police officers didn’t pursue a case of abuse before the violent death of the eight-year-old boy, who at one point was so desperate he said he wanted to kill himself, doesn’t surprise us, but it should. We should be shocked, but we’re not.
Police departments are overwhelmed with many of these cases and believe that it’s up to a social worker to see the burn scars, bruises, and to interpret the fear exhibited by a child. They trust that once out of their hands the social worker will act to ensure the child’s safety. It seems to us that many child services workers just take too long to remove a child from an abusive situation, forgetting that time is critical in these cases. Maybe all the children in these cases don’t end up dead, but we all can be sure that they are permanently harmed.
Secrecy, under the guise of privacy, is too often a fall back excuse for not giving out information to concerned citizens who have filed referrals with the police or children’s services, making it impossible for them to check on the status of their referral. The people reporting suspected or obvious bad behavior are usually those closest to the child, and their concerns should be taken seriously.
When a child is finally removed, extreme caution should be exercised before allowing him or her to be returned to the care of the abusive or neglectful parent or guardian.
There are cases of children who have spent years away from a parent, but the court will decide that the child should be removed from the only home and parents they have ever known, because their parent has finally shaped up. Why? Because only parents, and not children, have rights.
We believe it’s time to allow the public into the decision making process that keeps children in abusive, neglectful homes, or before they are returned to parents who have proven at one time to be a danger to their welfare.
Children’s welfare should be the first consideration in every case, if not, children will continue to be murdered under horrible conditions.